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Celebrating Women in Jazz

Composer, pianist, bandleader

1942 – 2024 


“In free playing [of the 1960s] everybody played as loud as they could and as fast as they could and as high as they could. I liked them, but there was also what Max Gordon said about a bunch of guys screaming their heads off: ‘Call the pound.’ I think the music needed a setting. Just as it was, I thought free jazz needed work.”

-  “A Lifetime of Carla Bley,”  The New Yorker, May 13, 2018

Photo credit: Caterina Di Perri/ECM Records


1999 -  

“[In college] I learned not only about the foundational things, but about phrasing and just being - having control over my voice and not just looking at a song as just something to sing, but, like, actually delving into the story and the lyrics and utilizing whatever tools I have, technique wise, to bring the song to life.”


-  Fresh Air, NPR, March 30, 2023


Website and photo credit:

Composer, orchestra leader, musician’s rights advocate

1960 – 

“I’m not interested in everybody in the world listening to my music for free, I can’t exist that way. No. It’s not going to happen”


-   Interview, Jazzwise, Sept. 15, 2020

Photo credit: Jim Levitt

Pianist, songwriter, vocalist

1933 – 2003 


“I’ll tell you what freedom is to me: no fear. I mean really, no fear!”


-  Nina: An Historical Perspective (1968)

Photo credit:

Pianist and composer

1972 – 


“Composing for me is like keeping a journal. I’m trying to write almost every day and some days I can write more than other days. But even one little motif, or just four bars, eight bars, I just try to write what happens, how I felt on that day. Instead of a diary I have this music diary.”


-  Berklee Internet Radio Network Interview Oct, 2019

Photo credit: 

Drums, author

1965 –

“When I told Berklee Press I wanted to include 100 women composers [in a proposed book], they said, That’s really ambitious. Are there even a hundred women composers? Well, here’s my answer, with 101 of them. I started with “Perdido Street Blues” by Lil Hardin Armstrong, which is almost a century old.”


-  Interview, Tidal, Sept. 2022

Photo credit: Michael Goldman


1928 - 1988


“When I entered show business at eighteen, it was unplanned—it just happened. Oh, in the back of my mind I wanted to be in show business, but I always thought: “Silly girl—it’ll never happen.” So then I did the Amateur Hour at Apollo—just to get the ten dollars, which was the first prize. A week at the theatre went with it, but I wasn’t even worried about that—I just wanted that ten dollars, because that was a lot of money. I won it, and the week that I was there, I was on the bill with Ella Fitzgerald and Earl Hines. So I said : “Well, my goodness—you can’t beat this!”  While I was there, Billy Eckstine came to catch the show; he went back and talked to Earl “Father” Hines—within a couple of weeks, I think, I was in show business. And that was a shock.”


-  UK National Jazz Archive 


Photo credit: William Gottlieb/Library of Congress

Clarinet, composer, bandleader

1979 – 


“Any day when I get to share music with people – other musicians, an audience – feels like a celebration to me. “

-  Anat Cohen 

 Photo credit: Jim Levitt

Pianist, composer, and bandleader

1910 – 1989


“Anything you are shows up in your music.”


-  Downbeat, August 27, 1964

Photo credit: William Gottlieb/Library of Congress

Alto saxophone and bandleader

1999 – 


“You’re not here to get out of bed and go on stage looking the same as the guy in the front row. Your presentation is a representation of your music before it’s heard.”

-  The Guardian,  Jan. 31, 2023

Website and photo credit:

Alto, soprano, tenor, and baritone saxophone

1992 –  


“Jazz is special to me because there’s improvisation, communication, and personal expression in the music. I love reacting to a note, chord, and rhythm that someone in the band throws at me. That’s what makes it fun. I try to forget all the scale stuff and licks that I’ve practiced and instead let musical melodies come out naturally.”

-   “Saxophone Prodigy Grace Kelly’s Astounding Journey”

Photo credit: Christian Nordstrom


1928 – 2016


“I love jazz; I love all kinds of music. But I really love the blues.”

-  Ernestine Anderson

Photo credit: SRJO Archives


1917 – 1996


“Maybe I’m stepping out (of line), but I have to say it, because it’s in my heart. It makes you feel so bad to think we can’t go down through certain parts of the South and give a concert like we do overseas, and have everybody just come to hear the music and enjoy the music, because of the prejudice thing that’s going on.”

-  1963 interview with DJ Fred Robbins

 Photo credit: William Gottlieb/Library of Congress

Harp, piano, composer

1937 – 2007


“And if we would put in one fourth of the time into trying to understand our spirituality that we put into wanting to grow more wealthy, I think we would find some of the incredible things that are occurring in our universe that we need to be aware of. We’d be more at peace with ourselves, we’d have less thoughts and petty concerns about who’s better and who’s trying to be better.”

-  Interview with Wire Magazine, June 2004

Photo credit: Chuck Stewart/New York Amsterdam News

Vocalist, composer, painter, actress, and activist

1930 – 2010 


“The best thing you can do is to be a woman and stand before the world and speak your heart.”

-  Abbey Lincoln

 Photo credit: Jack de Nijs/National Archive

Alto saxophone, composer 

1979 – 


As an artist, performer, and teacher, Fuller feels that she is fulfilling her purpose here on this earth, which is to “serve as a light for others.”

-  Artist’s Website 

Photo credit: Jim Levitt

Composer, singer, visual artist

1989 – 


“I could be cured

If I stopped loving

But I prefer the disease to the remedy”

-  From “Melusine” by Cécile McLorin Salvant

Photo credit: Karolis Kaminskas


1909 – 1958


“God bless the child, the child that’s got his own.”

-  Lyrics by Billie Holiday

Photo credit: William P. Gottlieb/Ira and Leonore S. Gershwin Fund Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress.

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